Novel bio-fungicide project has its sights on Septoria control

Arable farmers could soon have a range of novel bio-fungicides to help in the fight against wheat disease Septoria, thanks to the launch of a new Defra and UKRI-funded project.

The work, being conducted by CHAP in collaboration with London-based biotechnology company Bactobio Ltd, will screen bacteria for use as natural fungicide products.

It will identify bacteria with modes of action against ascomycete fungus Zymoseptoria tritici, commonly known as Septoria, and will use Bactobio’s BACCU technology.

Dr Mark Wilkinson, Head of Compound Discovery at Bactobio (formerly Baccuico) said: “Bacteria have huge potential to solve global issues: previously we’ve used our Bacterial Community Cultivation platform (BACCU) to discover novel antibiotic solutions.

“We’re now employing this technology within crop protection, as we believe it has a role to play in addressing key issues such as fungicide resistance and the growing need for new, non-synthetic control options.

“By working together on this project, we hope to identify up to 10 active natural compounds with control activity for Z. tritici. As the bacteria from which we derive those compounds will be of diverse genetic backgrounds, such research reduces the likelihood of future resistance, while of course offering lower environmental impact.”

The project will use CHAP’s National Reference Collection of live fungi and bacteria isolates, providing field samples of Z. tritici for use in Bactobio’s compound screening. Following this, CHAP’s partner Rothamsted Research will run glasshouse trials to test the efficacy of the potential bio-fungicides.

It’s thanks to funding from Innovate UK’s Farming Innovation Pathways (FIP) industrial research competition that the work will be able to take place during the next 18 months. The competition is part of Defra and UKRI’s Transforming Food Production challenge, supporting new ways to produce food that reduce emissions and pollution, and contribute to feeding a growing world population.

Innovation Sector Lead for CHAP, Richard Glass, said: “Septoria poses a major disease threat for UK wheat growers, with the potential to cause crop yield losses of up to £180million.

“With an ever diminishing number of synthetic chemicals in the crop protection toolbox, our industry needs to look for alternatives to safeguard yield and therefore ensure financial viability.

“Bringing synergistic technologies from other sectors into agriculture is an exciting concept, and we are delighted to have successfully secured the FIP funding to conduct this vital work alongside Bactobio.”

Bactobio’s BACCU technology directs the evolution of unculturable bacteria, so that they can become culturable in a laboratory. Once in the lab, bacteria are then screened for valuable metabolites. So far, this has enabled cultivation rates to rise from less than 1%, to more than 15%, allowing a library of novel bacterial species to be built for downstream metabolite screening.

Further information on Defra’s new funding opportunities is available at the Future Farming Blog and at the dedicated UKRI webpage.

If you are interested in working with CHAP to develop your own project ideas for future funding applications, or want to learn more about CHAP membership, please send us an email using the enquiries form at the bottom of our homepage.